The S Word

I didn’t make it to the last Wednesday Hodgepodge get together for several reasons, none of them even worth mentioning. But I did read the questions, and one stood out in my mind. I thought about it several times throughout the week, because I have pondered this very question before.

2. How difficult is it for you to forgive someone who refuses to apologize?

That is a deep, deep question. It stirs up many images, none of them good. I can recall events from my childhood that stand out in my mind precisely because of their ugliness and my need for forgiveness. Hurtful words that came out of my mouth. Behavior that I participated in that I am not proud of. Actions that I never took responsibility for. I am convicted and shameful, even after all of these years.

I am horrified by the unkind things I said about K.S.’s Dad at our Home Economics table. Things she heard. Things I don’t recall ever saying I was sorry for. Or why did I pick such an inappropriate time to confront D.P.? I was not thinking about her at all, only my selfish need to say what I wanted to say. Twenty some years later, I did apologize for that one, because the Lord kept bringing it to mind. And while my friend said don’t worry about it and said she forgave me, I KNEW it needed to be said. And hopefully, it healed a place in her heart too.

I am also aware, and deeply thankful, that if I confess my sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive me of them. John 1:9 tells me so. But even though I know the Lord has forgiven me, I still live with the memory and consequence of the offense. And perhaps that is for good reason. I will never repeat some of those mistakes again. Because I DO remember.

I have done many things in my life that required an apology. I am not unaware of how important it can be, for the one doing the giving, and the one doing the receiving.

Saying you are sorry is to acknowledge that you have caused harm. Intentionally or unintentionally. Admitting to yourself and the other person that there has been an offense, a wrong done, an injustice.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is a needed thing. You do feel better after giving an apology, especially after righting a wrong, and if you are fortunate, being forgiven. No matter what the other person says, it has to mean something to them to hear you admit the grief you have caused them.

I offer this example. A couple of years ago, a gal I served with at BSF took personal offense at a sentence I said. She turned it into something completely other than what my sentence was. She went from zero to 100 in 2 seconds and said things that were offensive, stupid, hurtful and completely untrue, all the while not letting me speak, at all. She was not listening, she was telling me that I had no idea of the stress she was under, and even presumed to tell me what I really meant. She.Came.Unglued. And then she left in a hysterical huff, screaming the whole way down the hallway, leaving me with my mouth wide open. Opening and closing like a fish needing water. Oh, and there were other people there. Not at all uncomfortable.

She never said a word to me the rest of the day, or the next. I was left alone with my BOILING CAULDRON of thoughts for the whole next week. And I’m here to tell you, they bubbled, simmered and erupted ALL week long. I had many long and fiery imaginary conversations with her, in some she wore duct tape on her mouth. I don’t look for confrontation, but I do not avoid it at all costs. Sometimes words need to be said. But how was I going to say them? What was the Christian response? What if she acted like nothing ever happened? What if she didn’t let me say my peace? What if she just got defensive and started justifying her behavior? What if I punched her in the beak??? That was my favorite scenario, in my mind.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, had been working on my behalf all week. The next Wednesday, she sought me out first thing in the morning. She offered a sincere apology for the many things she said. The whole situation was diffused. I simply said “thank you, I needed to hear that from you”. We hugged and that was it. Really, I could let it all go. She admitted her wrong. I forgave her. The end.

I’m sorry. It’s a powerful little word.

So there is that end of the apology spectrum. The end where people do what they should. Personally, I think the other end can sometimes be the harder end. The end where someone clearly is in the wrong, and refuses to take responsibility for their actions. For whatever reason. Their pride, fear, their rationalization of the situation, their defense of the indefensible, their ignorance.

I offer another example. Sixteen years ago this October, The Kids and I were in a car accident on the freeway. We were hit by a woman who had been traveling on the other side of the road. According to witnesses, she was driving over 90 miles an hour when she lost control of her car, crossed a grassy median,  hit a car ahead of us, and then hit our van almost head on.

I cannot even begin to tell you how that one instant changed the entire course of our lives. One person, speeding, carelessly weaving in and out of traffic, possibly looking at pictures in her lap, late for a hair appointment, she altered lives. She hit two cars, the first car had 1 passenger, and ours had four. Broken vehicles, broken bodies, shattered people. Lives put on hold.

There were injuries in our van, but by far the most serious was Abby. She had an L2 spinal cord injury and was flown by life flight to the University of Michigan Hospital, where she lived for the next 2 months. She was 6 years old. Because of the recklessness of one, she is in a wheelchair.

The state trooper who was a first responder was a good man. He had kids. He had seen a lot in his career. He told me about the conversation he had with the woman who caused the accident and her husband. They were in her hospital room, and he was asking her questions about the crash. Then the woman’s husband started asking him questions. About me. How fast was I driving? Had I been drinking?  The trooper said he was almost speechless. He finally told the man, in no uncertain terms, that no, none of those things were factors, and I was driving on the right side of the road. He said he was shocked by that conversation, at their inability to take responsibility for her actions, and worse yet, try and lay the blame somewhere else.

It was an indication of what was to come.

Most telling to me were the words of the woman driving the car at her court hearing. She told the judge “ I am sorry this happened, but what we have to remember here was this was just a simple accident”. The judge didn’t receive that well. She put her in jail for the maximum amount she could. 90 days. She was out in less than half for good behavior, and it was her first offense. She never spoke to us, never apologized, never said one thing to Abby. She did send her a card months later saying she was praying for her complete recovery. The end.

I don’t know this woman, only her name and a few random details of her life. I don’t know if she was a horrible person, or was acting on the orders of her lawyer. By her actions, I have a suspicion that her personal ethics and integrity are poor. You know they say actions speak louder. I always figured that she would never truly understand what she had done until she had her own child. Maybe then she would comprehend.

Back to the question: How difficult is it for you to forgive someone who refuses to apologize?

She never apologized. She never asked for our forgiveness. She gave a backhanded, generic sort of apology that she was sorry it happened, and the judge said she believed she did wish it had never happened, in the sense that the thief is sorry he got caught, but she did not claim responsibility. She never gave us the opportunity to forgive her. It would have made a difference to me to have heard her sincerely say the s word.

So where are we now? Well, I am going to speak for myself here, since I did not talk to Honey or Abby about this question.  Speaking only for myself, I can honestly say that God took any bitterness I may have had towards this woman, and it lies on the deepest ocean floor. He knew I could not live with it growing and thriving. My Mother told me years ago, long before this incident, that the seeds of hate and anger  put down roots in your heart that only hurt and poison you. The advice was applicable in this situation too.

There was too much work to do to help Abby, to raise our children, to find our new normal as a family. It took all of our energy to just DO life.

God took it away. Do you know how powerful that is? Can you understand the freedom and mercy God has given to me? It was one of His most precious gifts. To be lost to those thoughts would have ruined me, ruined our family.

I hardly ever think of her, I am having a little trouble remembering her first name. I don’t remember clearly what she looks like.I am not consumed by anger, or hate, or bitterness for the horrible, unfair she did to my child, our precious first born. I could not have done that on my own. It would have been impossible.

English Standard Version (©2001)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

So my very long answer to the short question is this.  If God is in it, it is not difficult at all.

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10 Comments

  1. caprilis said,

    August 15, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    Your relationship with God is an AMAZING blessing and an even more amazing inspiration.

  2. Tammy said,

    August 15, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    I am going to have to read this again and probably several more times so I can really ponder this. You would think it would be easy, but it kinda creeps in when you least expect it.
    Thank you for the wisdom.

  3. automatic7 said,

    August 15, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    What a beautiful glimpse of your soul, K. Again, I am inspired by your true tales of humble God-leaning.

  4. Honey's Older Sister said,

    August 15, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    You are a far better person than I am. I need to work harder on that! I really don’t know if I could do that. Forgive.

  5. Dottie said,

    August 15, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    Kelly, you are an amazing lady. You are to be respected and admired. It is not easy to live God’s wishes. I am glad that I know you.

  6. deb said,

    August 15, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    A sincere THANK YOU for your words full of wisdom.

  7. Cindy Wildasin said,

    August 15, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    Such a POWERFUL post! Thank you!

  8. August 16, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    This post is one of your BEST, and you know I’m already a raving fan! Love your heart! 🙂

  9. Marlene said,

    August 16, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    What an amazing God we have to allow you this forgiveness and forgetfulness. This blog moved me and inspired me. I think a lot of people are so into themselves that they don’t know how to say they are sorry. Others are so in to themselves they can’t accept apologies and forgive or if someone doesn’t apologize they cannot forgive. Someone said once that God loves that other person just as much as He loves you. That was a hard one for me to swallow. Thank you for sharing your deepest feelings and how God has worked in your life.

  10. August 17, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    […] I didn’t join up with The Hodgepodge last week, but I did read the questions. One of them stuck with me and I pondered it several times throughout the week. I answered it here. […]


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